Pictonians at Home and Abroad
Religious History of the County
PICTOU County is probably
the strongest Presbyterian community in Canada. Presbyterianism was first
on the ground, and has continued in possession. So far as known, all who
came in the "Hope" and "Hector" were Presbyterians, with the exception of
one man on the "Hope" and one family on the "Hector" who were Roman
Catholics. The South of Scotland settlers were, without exception,
The first settled
minister, Rev. James McGregor, D.D., was an ardent Presbyterian, as was
also his coadjutor, Rev. D. Ross. These two, with Dr. McCulloch who came
later, for over forty years upheld the blue banner of Presbyterianism, and
planted the seed out of which grew many of the leading churches, not only
in the County but in the Maritime Provinces.
The early settlers in
Pictou were almost exclusively Scottish. They and their descendants have
proved themselves worthy of their nationality. They believed profoundly in
the Word of God and in the blessings of education. They were ardent lovers
of the Sabbath and the Sanctuary. The great truths and principles of
Presbyterianism they brought with them to their new home, where they had
much to do with the making and moulding of Pictou's religious life and
history. No group of Scotsmen could long be content without the ordinances
of religion; and hardly had the first ground been cleared and the first
seeds planted in Pictou before its pioneers began to ask for the
ministrations of their Church.
One hundred and fifty
years ago, there was not so far as known, a single Presbyterian minister
in Nova Scotia.
One hundred years ago
there were but eight or nine, and none at all in any of the other Maritime
Provinces. Indeed, there were then only three other Presbyterian ministers
in all Canada; Revs. George Henry and Alexander Spark of Quebec, and Rev.
John Bethune of Montreal, the latter of whom held the first Presbyterian
service in that city, on March 12, 1786. West of Montreal there were at
that time no Presbyterian ministers. Ontario was an almost uninhabited
wilderness, and the Great North West was unknown.
The first minister who
labored in Nova Scotia was Rev. James Lyon who was an Ulster Scotsman. He
arrived here in 1764 or 1765 and remained about seven years. He was a
graduate of Princeton, N. J., and was ordained to the ministry in 1764. He
was' a member of the Philadelphia Land Company which sent the pioneer
settlers to Pictou in the "Hope"; and in all probability it was arranged
that he should be the minister for the new settlement. But it is found
that for several years he ministered to the people of Halifax, Onslow and
Truro. In 1769, he removed to Pictou with his family, remaining only about
two years, after which he went to Maine. The only memorial of his visit to
Pictou is that he gave his name to Lyon's Brook.
A few years after Mr.
Lyon's departure, James Davidson, a schoolmaster, established a Sabbath
School at Lyon's Brook for the religious instruction of the young. Mr.
Davidson came from Scotland to Truro with Rev. Mr. Cock in 1772. Soon
afterwards he removed to Pictou with his family; secured a lot at Lyon's
Brook, and made his home there. On week days he taught the children
reading, writing and arithmetic; on the Sabbath he gathered them together
in his house to teach them the Shorter Catechism and the Word of God.
It is said that his was
the first Sabbath School in the County, and probably in the Province. If
this is true,
then to an old-time school master belongs the
honor of originating the Sabbath School idea, and Mr. Davidson was the
first in line of a noble band of teachers, to whom, the county of Pictou
owes much of its fame. This was many years before Robert Raikes began his
world-wide Sabbath School movement. Mr. Davidson returned in 1776, to
Truro, where he ended his days.
In April, 1818, a Sabbath School was
organized in Prince St. Church, Pictou. Its promoters were Robert Dawson
and John Geddie. Rev. Thomas McCulloch was pastor when the school started.
It began with about eighty scholars. Ten years later the school had
increased to 260. The first superintendents were Robert and James Dawson.
The first teachers were John Geddie, F. Ross, David Fraser and R. S.
In 1823 a Sabbath School Society was formed
for the purpose of organizing schools in the outlying districts. In four
years the number had increased to 75, chiefly through the agency of this
society. The first Sabbath School in New Glasgow was organized about 1838,
in St. Andrew's Church, by Rev. John Stewart who was then pastor. He
taught the Bible Class, which was held in the church during the summer
months, and in the winter months in the manse. Among the first teachers
were John McKay, Alexander McKay, Dr. Forrest and the wife of Rev. John
From the time of the arrival of the "Hope"
and "Hector" the colony increased in numbers and influence. A steady
stream of immigrants. continued to pour into the county till, in 1786, the
total population was about five hundred. These were settled principally
along the three rivers, East, Middle and West with a few families
scattered around the shore, from Pictou to Merigomish. Rev. Mr. Cock of
Truro frequently visited the people and preached to them. Indeed, many
considered him their minister, and traveled thirty miles on foot to Truro
to observe the
Lord's Supper sometimes carrying their children there for baptism. But
the time had come for them to have a minister of their own.
Accordingly, a committee
was appointed, consisting of Robert and John Patterson of Pictou, William
Smith of the West River, Robert Marshall, Middle River, and Donald McKay
of East River, to secure a minister. They agreed to pay eighty pounds for
the first and second years. The call was sent to Scotland. It came before
the General Associate Synod of Scotland at its meeting on May 3, 1786,
when it was accepted by Rev. James McGregor who accordingly sailed for
Halifax, from Greenock, in the brig Lily, on the fourth day of June, 1786.
Dr. McGregor was born in
Perthshire, Scotland in 1759, He arrived in Nova Scotia in July 11, l786,
when he was 27 years of age. He had had some experience in ministerial
work in Scotland. He was a good scholar and a sound theologian. His
knowledge of Gaelic was accurate and his mastery of the language complete,
as may be seen from his "Gaelic Poems and Hymns," which are still in
demand among Highlanders.
He landed in Halifax,
after a voyage of 37 days, and at once proceeded to Pictou, where he
arrived on Saturday, the twenty-first day of July, 1786. His welcome was
cordial. His first sermon was preached in Squire Patterson's barn about a
mile west of the present town. He preached in English in the forenoon from
the text, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners", and in Gaelic in the
afternoon on "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was
The second Sabbath after
his arrival, July 30th, he preached at the East River, a little below what
was afterwards Albion Mines. The third Sabbath's preaching took place at
the lower end of the Middle River, at what was then Alexander Fraser's
homestead. It was at this time he first met Robert Marshall, who was
afterwards his life-long friend and helper. Early in October he visited
the upper settlement of the East River. His first sermon in that section
was preached at James McDonald's intervale, (now Cameron's) under the
shade of a large elm tree, which forms the frontispiece of this book. The
tree is still standing and flourishing vigorously. Occasionally, he
preached at Mr. Charles McIntosh's, about six miles farther up the River
in a grove of trees, and at West Branch at Mr. Donald Chisholm's or at
James Cameron's. Late in the Autumn, he paid his first visit to Merigomish.
where for thirty years he continued at intervals to give supply. During
the summer he preached in the open air, then during the winter, in private
For nine years, Dr.
McGregor was the sole minister in Pictou County, preaching, visiting,
traveling on snowshoes in winter, and in summer literally paddling his own
canoe. His congregation was widely scattered, and his mission field
Among the settlers who
came to Pictou in 1783, were three Frasers, who all settled on the East
River. Their names were; Thomas, Simon and Alexander Fraser. They are
noteworthy because they were the first elders chosen to that office.
Having been previously ordained as elders before leaving Scotland, they
were elected by the people, and these three men, with Dr. McGregor, as
Moderator, formed the first session in Pictou, Sept. 17, 1786, thus
completing the organization of the congregation which at that time
comprised the whole county.
The next year the
session was increased by the addition of Donald McKay and Peter Grant of
the East River. Robert Marshall and Kenneth Fraser of the Middle River,
John McLean and Hugh Fraser of the West River and John Patterson of the
Harbor. They were ordained on May 6, 1787.
During the summer, the
people built two log churches, the first in the county. The one was
situated near the site of the old Duff Cemetery, a short distance above
New Glasgow; the other on the Loch Broom side of the West River, beside a
brook, on land, owned at that time, by William MacKenzie, who gave the
site. Dr. McGregor describes the building of these churches. During the
month of July 1787, the men were chiefly engaged in building the two
meeting houses. Instead of having contractors, to build them, they agreed
to divide the work among themselves. One party cut the logs and hauled
them to the site; another hewed and laid them; another provided the
shingles; those who had knowledge of carpentering made the doors and the
windows; the glass and nails were bought. Moss was stuffed between the
logs to keep out the wind and rain. The churches at first had no pulpits,
and, when they were provided at a later date, they were not of mahogany,
but of the white pine of Pictou. The buildings were some thirty-five or
forty feet long, by twenty-five to thirty feet wide. The only seats in
them were logs of wood with the upper side hewed. It is unnecessary to
state that they were without cushions. There was a gallery, or rather, an
upper story, with a floor seated with logs and slabs to which the young
went up by ladders.
Such were the first two
churches of Pictou. They had no modern improvements. Even the luxury of a
fire in winter was unknown. There were no carriages and no roads at that
date Our dear mothers in Israel walked to church, or went by boat or
horseback, in bonnet and shawl and gingham dress. The music was far from
pretentious. The preacher and his sermon would now be considered
antiquated. But the writer of this volume is old fashioned enough to think
that no sweeter praise and prayers ever ascended to God than these devout
pioneers offered in glen and glade and primitive building. With all our
knowledge and progress, we have not got beyond them in essentials.
In 1803, the old log
church near New Glasgow was replaced by a frame-building at Irishtown,
(now called Plymouth). Here Dr. McGregor built a house made of brick, the
first of its kind in the Eastern part of the Province. He employed a man
from the old country to make the brick. Here he lived till near the close
of his life. The fact that Dr. McGregor received no salary until he had
been over a year at work did not prevent him from doing his whole duty as
a minister. His salary was to be eighty pounds for the first two years,
ninety for the third and fourth and one hundred pounds currency per year
thereafter, which was a very generous allowance for that time, more
particularly in a new and struggling settlement The salary at first was
raised by an assessment on lands and cattle. With certain changes this was
continued till 1815, when the method of obtaining the salary was changed
to voluntary subscription.
On the 27th day of July,
1788, the first Sacrament was held at Middle River, in the open air. It
was dispensed on a beautiful green plot, on the left bank of the river,
sheltered by a lofty wood. Here one hundred and thirty sat down in
Nature's great cathedral, for the first time in this new land, to own a
Saviour's dying love. There the sacred Supper was dispensed annually till
l795. At the first communion thirty-eight new communicants joined. Each
year there were a few additions till, in 1793, the number had reached two
hundred and forty. At the same time five hundred persons were under
training with a view to becoming communicants. In 1793 a census of the
County was taken. In 1769, there had been 18 families and a total
population of 120. In 1786. there were 90 families and about 500 people.
In 1793, there were 178 families, a gain of one hundred per cent in seven
For nine years Dr.
McGregor labored alone At the end of that time two young ministers arrived
from Scotland, Revs. Duncan Ross and John Brown. They reached Pictou in
the summer of 1795, and remained there for a little time to rest. Meantime
the sacrament of the Supper was dispensed at Middle River. Messrs. Ross
and Brown assisted in preaching and serving the tables.
The next step was for
those three to organize a Presbytery. Accordingly, at the close of the
sacrament, on Monday, July 7,1795, Messrs. McGregor, Ross and Brown held a
meeting in Robert Marshall's barn, and formed themselves into "The
Associate Presbytery of Nova Scotia." On this occasion Dr. McGregor
preached on Neb. 2:20, "The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore
we his servants will arise and build." The meetings of Presbytery were
occasions of rich enjoyment. Business was apparently a secondary matter,
at all events, for five years, they kept no minutes of their proceedings.
But their meetings were scenes of hearty Christian fellowship and
conference about the trials or successes of their work; intelligence from
friends in the dear homeland, the new movement in Missions, the meaning of
some particular text, or sometimes an hour of harmless mirth and
merriment, these engaged their attention and made their meetings times of
Dr. McGregor and Mr.
Ross were associate ministers for the county till July 14, 1801, when a
division was made. Thereafter West and Middle Rivers formed one
congregation, with Mr. Ross as minister. East River, another, with Dr.
McGregor in charge; and the Harbor a third, to be supplied by these two
till another minister could be secured.
In Nov. 1803, Rev. Dr.
Thos. McCulloch, with his wife and three children, arrived at Pictou from
Scotland. His coming was a great event in the ecclesiastical and
educational history of the
County, as well as in that of the Province. He had been assigned to Prince
Edward Island, but owing to the lateness of the season, he was unable to
secure passage. He was engaged to supply the Harbor congregation till
spring. Before winter was over, the people gave him a call, and he was
inducted as their minister, June 6, 1804. The town of Pictou, at this
time, consisted of something over a dozen houses, a few barns, a
blacksmith shop and the Court House. There was no church, and the people
met in private dwellings and other places. Until that time the people of
the Harbor had worshipped in the log church at Loch Broom, but they now
set about the erection of a church of their own, and a frame building was
built on the lot at present occupied by Prince St. Church. That building
served the congregation till 1848, when the existing church was erected.
Dr. McCulloch resigned in 1824 to give his whole time to educational work.
He was succeeded by Rev. John McKinlay who continued in charge till his
death, 1850. He in turn was succeeded by Rev. James Bayne, D.D. Mr.
McKinlay was a native of Scotland, and came to this country in 1817. For
several years he was a teacher in Pictou Academy before he became pastor
of the Harbor church.
River John was organized
into a congregation in 1808, with Rev. John Mitchell as its first settled
minister. There were about fifty families at this time in the community.
Mr. Mitchell, who came from England, was in early life a rope-maker, but
being anxious to preach the Gospel, he prepared himself for the work when
about thirty years of age.
He made several
missionary tours in Canada before settling in River John. Though
originally a Congregationalist, he united with the Presbytery of Pictou.
His labors extended over a district now served by five or six ministers.
Here he labored with great diligence and faithfulness, giving special
attention to the training of the young and the superintendence of prayer
meetings. He died in 1841, in the seventy-sixth year of his age. He is
described as a man of great cheerfulness.
Rev. William Patrick was
the first minister at Merigomish, and the fifth in the county. He came to
Merigomish in 1815 and was inducted pastor. In early life he was brought
up in the Reformed Presbyterian Church, but connected himself with the
Anti-Burgher Church. Mt. Patrick labored with great fidelity, preaching on
week days as well as Sabbaths, and faithfully attending to family
visitation, prayer services and catechising. On May 7, 1844, the Rev. A.
P. Miller was ordained as his colleague. On the 25th of Nov., 1844, he
died, greatly beloved by his people, aged 73 years.
An event of much
importance to the Presbyterian Church took place on the third of May,
1817, when a union between the Burgher and Anti-Burgher Churches was
consummated. The united body assumed the name of The Presbyterian Church
of Nova Scotia, and a Synod was formed and divided into three
Presbyteries. Rev. James McGregor was chosen as first Moderator. Of the
nineteen ministers of the Synod of Nova Scotia, fourteen had been
connected with the Anti-Burgher Church, three with the Church of Scotland
and two were Congregationalists. This union was productive of much good.
The hearts of ministers and people were greatly encouraged. Now they were
one body, ready to establish and build up the Kingdom.
Hitherto the Church had
been dependent upon Scotland for its ministers; but it had long been
evident that they must look elsewhere for their supply. Accordingly, in
1820, the Synod established a Theological Hall in Pictou for the training
and education of a native ministry.
Pictou claims the honor
of being the birthplace of the first Presbyterian Theological School in
Canada. The moving spirit in the enterprise was the Rev. Thomas McCulloch,
D. D., an enthusiastic educationist and a man of wonderful foresight. As
early as 1805, two years after his arrival from Scotland, we find him
planning a school for the education of young men which resulted in 1816 in
the establishment of Pictou Academy, where several young men who had the
ministry in view were prepared for entering upon a theological course.
In the autumn of 1820
the Divinity Hall was opened with Dr. McCulloch as the first Professor of
Theology. The classes were taught in one of the rooms at Pictou Academy.
Twelve students entered upon the study of theology the first term. The
young men supported themselves by teaching and met the professor at
intervals of a fortnight to receive instruction in their theological
studies. In 1824, the first fruits of the church's educational efforts
were realized in the licensing, ordaining and settlement of six of the
students. These were Messrs. R. S. Patterson, John L. Murdoch, John
McLean, Angus McGillivray, Hugh Ross and Hugh Dunbar. The first four were
licensed on June 8, 1824 by the Presbytery of Pictou. Three of these,
Messrs. Patterson, Murdoch and McLean before accepting calls, proceeded to
Scotland, where after passing a creditable examination they received the
degree of Master of Arts from the University of Glasgow.
One of the first of the
graduates to be settled was Angus McGillivray. He became the worthy
successor of Dr. McGregor in the Upper Settlement of the East River. He
was inducted Sept. 1, 1824. For the long period of 40 years he continued
to labor, amidst great discouragements, but with great fidelity. In 1864
he tendered his resignation and on the 20th of July 1869 he died in the
77th year of his age and the 45th of his ministry. His congregation
included both the East and West Branch, a district now supporting five
Presbyterian ministers. The first meeting house on the East River was at
Grant's Lake, on the farm now occupied by Joseph H. Grant. It was a log
house, built in 1790, and served the East and West Branches.
Having visited London
and Edinburgh, Messrs. McLean, Murdoch and Patterson returned to Nova
Scotia reaching Pictou after a passage of forty five days. They were soon
settled in pastoral charges.' Mr. McLean was ordained in 1825 and in l826
accepted a call to Richibucto, N. B. In a short time he was compelled to
resign his charge on account of ill health. For two years he conducted a
private academy in Halifax with success. He died in 1837, in the 37th year
of age. During his brief ministry he was distinguished as an able
preacher, and a zealous missionary; he took a deep interest in Sunday
school work and was one of the first advocates of the cause of temperance.
Mr. Murdoch was settled
at Windsor and died there in 1873, in the 74th year of his age. His
congregation extended allover western Hants and for nearly fifty years he
preached there with ability and success. He was greatly beloved by his
people and was the spiritual father of many children. He was a valuable
member of the courts of the church. One of the ecclesiastical measures
which he brought before the Synod in 1840 was, that this Synod do form
itself into a society to be called "The Society for the Propagation of the
Gospel in the Lower Provinces." Dr. Keir and Mr. Murdoch drafted the rules
which were adopted. The successor of that domestic Missionary Society is
the Board of Home Missions of the church of today of which Mr. Murdoch was
a member as long as he lived.
Bedeque, in Prince
Edward Island was the scene of Mr. Patterson's ministry. At the time of
his settlement in l825 it is said there was not a wagon in the parish or a
mile of road in which to run one. The country was almost an unbroken
forest. The congregation at first was small and during the greater part of
his ministry he did not receive more than $300 per year and only half in
money. He labored without interruption till a few years before his death
in 1882, having been 56 years and a half in the ministry. Mr. Patterson
was a distinguished student and a true friend of popular education. His
zeal for missions is well known and second only in fervor to Dr. Geddie's.
In 1827 Mr. Ross
accepted a call to Tatamagouche and New Annan. Here he continued until
1840 when he accepted a charge in Prince Edward Island, where he died
suddenly in 1858.
Mr. Dunbar was an
English and Gaelic preacher. He settled at Cavendish, Prince Edward Island
in 1827. Resigning in 1840 he engaged in teaching but also preached
regularly where he resided. He died in 1857. These six men have this
prominence and honor in common that they were the pioneer native ministers
of British North America, at all events of the Presbyterian Church.
From this time forward
the Church made rapid growth and progress. Congregations were formed, and
suitable pastors settled over them. Home missions were established to aid
the weaker churches. It was a time of strengthening and enlargement.
On April 16, 1813, over
a hundred years ago, a Bible Society was organized at Durham, N. S., the
first in the County and the second in the Province, that in Truro being
first. The first contribution received for the Bible Society, London, from
any place outside of England, came from Pictou County. Money was a rare
commodity in those days, but, in 1807, two hundred and fifty-six dollars,
and, in 1808, three hundred and twenty dollars were collected in the
county and sent to the London Society. In 1825, the Society was
reorganized, with headquarters in Pictou. In 1840 the New Glasgow district
was organized into a branch of its own.
For forty-four years Dr.
McGregor labored in the County. He died on the third day of March, 1830.
He had lived to see the congregation of which he was originally the sole
Pastor grow and develop into six congregations with settled pastors, a
Presbytery and a Synod organized to conduct the business of the church, an
Academy and Seminary founded to educate and train ministers, and the cause
of Presbyterianism firmly established in the Maritime Provinces.
Dr. McGregor was twice
married, first to Ann, daughter of Roderick McKay, by whom he had James,
Christina (Mrs. Abram Patterson, Pictou), Roderick, Jessie (Mrs. Charles
Fraser, Green Hill), Sarah (Mrs. George McKenzie, New Glasgow), and
In 1812 he married Mrs.
Gordon, widow of Rev. Peter Gordon, by whom he had Mary (Mrs. (Rev.) John
Cameron, Nine Mile River), Annabel (Mrs. (Rev.) John Campbell), Sherbrooke,
and Peter Gordon.
His successor in the New
Glasgow congregation was Rev. David Roy, who was inducted, April 13, 1831.
Four years after Dr.
McGregor's death, Mr. Ross died, in the sixty-fifth year of his age. For
thirty nine years he wrought with great faithfulness and diligence.
Besides pulpit and pastoral duties, he gave considerable time to public
affairs. He took a deep interest in education, being a trustee of Pictou
Academy from its beginning, till his death. He was a pioneer in the
organization of temperance work. The idea of a total abstinence Society
originated at the West River, and the honor of forming the first Society
on this basis in Nova Scotia, and the second in Canada, belongs to its
founders. It was organized in January 1828, and Rev. Duncan Ross, George
McDonald and Donald McLeod were the prime movers.
Mr. Ross' last public
act was assisting at a Communion service in Pictou, town, and taking a
leading part in the ordination of Alexander McKenzie, a young student from
the Seminary. He married Miss Elizabeth Creelman of Stewiacke, and had a
family of fifteen children. Two of the sons were Rev. James Ross, D.O.,
afterwards Principal of Dalhousie College, who succeeded him, and Rev. E.
Ross of Truro. A daughter who was married to Mr. Miller, Rogers Hill, gave
three sons to the ministry, and another married to Mr. Crockett, gave two
We now come to the story
of the Kirk in the County of Pictou. For many years, a large number of the
immigrants, chiefly from the Highlands of Scotland, who had settled in
Pictou, belonged to the Church of Scotland or the Kirk. They naturally had
great affection for the church of their fathers, but continued to attend
the AntiBurgher Church, which was the only Presbyterian Church within
their reach. From time to time, many of them were appointed elders and
office bearers in Dr. McGregor's and Mr. Ross' congregations. A spirit of
harmony and cooperation prevailed. But, alas! a root of bitterness sprung
up. Upon this unfortunate story it would be vain to dwell.
At that time Rev. Donald
Allan Fraser came from Scotland and landed at Pictou in 1817. Sometime
afterwards a large number of the Kirk people withdrew from the connection
altogether, and formed themselves into the Church of Scotland in Nova
Scotia with Rev. Mr. Fraser as their leader. Mr. Fraser was a man
eminently qualified to gain the hearts and affections of the Highlanders -
young and handsome, an accomplished scholar and a powerful Gaelic
preacher. The first congregation organized was at McLennan's Brook. There
were about forty families settled there at that time, all Highlanders.
They extended to him a call which he accepted.
They erected a frame
church capable of seating about five hundred persons. This was the first
church in the County erected in connection with the Church of Scotland.
Beside it, they built a log house for himself and his wife. Next year a
church was built at Fraser's mountain. about six miles from McLennan's
Brook and two miles from New Glasgow. There were some twenty-five families
connected with it, and it became in course of time, the nucleus from which
St. Andrew's Church, New Glasgow was formed. Here Mr. Fraser continued to
labor with great acceptance and success until 1837, when, to the regret of
his congregation, he removed to Lunenburg. Thence he went to St. Johns,
Newfoundland, and founded St. Andrew's Church. He died, Feb. 7, 1845,
greatly honored as a preacher and as a man. He was the first Presbyterian
minister settled in Newfoundland. His son, late Hon. J. O. Fraser, St.
Johns, Nfd., spent his early manhood at McLennan's Brook.
The next Kirk
congregation organized was St. Andrew's Church in the town of Pictou. It
first met for worship, in the old Court House, in 1822. In 1823, a wooden
building was erected. Their first minister was Rev. K. J. McKenzie, a
native of Stornoway, Scotland, who came to Pictou in 1824. He was a man of
fine ability and a good preacher in Gaelic and English. His labors were
chiefly confined to the Town where he took a prominent part in the
educational and political questions of the day. He died in 1838, in the
39th year of his age. He was succeeded by Rev. Mr. Williamson. In 1849,
Rev. Andrew Herdman became pastor and ministered for thirty years. In
1866, a brick and stone building was erected. It was burnt in 1893, but
rebuilt shortly afterwards.
The next organization
after Pictou town was West Branch and East River formed into one
congregation. The two districts were nearly equally divided in the number
of families, between the Kirk and the Anti-Burghers. For many years Dr.
McGregor supplied the one section, and Mr. Fraser the other.
Rev. Angus McGillivray
succeeded Dr. McGregor in 1824. The Kirk people were without a settled
minister until 1832 when Rev. John Macrae carne from Inverness, Scotland
to be their pastor. Both parties now had regular services, but there was
only one church in each district occupied by Kirk and Anti-Burghers on
alternate Sabbaths. In 1815 framed buildings were erected at St. Paul's,
East River, on the hill above the present church, and at the West Branch,
on a hill near Cameron's Brook, not far from St. Columba's Church. Mr.
Macrae entered upon his work with great zeal and continued to labor most
acceptably to the people for 16 years, when he returned to Scotland.
In the Western part of
the County, a congregation was organized at Gairloch and Saltsprings.
These two districts contained about four hundred families, nearly all from
the Highlands of Scotland. There first minister was Rev. Hugh McLeod who
settled there in 1822. He was succeeded by Rev. Donald McIntosh who
remained until the disruption.
Rogers Hill, now
Scotsburn, was formed into a congregation about the same time as Gairloch
and Saltsprings. The community was settled by Highlanders from
Sutherlandshire, who nearly all belonged to the Kirk. The first church (St
John's) was built in 1823, and is the oldest church building in the
County. Rev. Roderick Macaulay was the first minister. In a few years he
went to Prince Edward Island, where he entered into politics and became
speaker of House of Assembly. The next minister was the Rev. Donald
McConnichie. He was a powerful Gaelic preacher, and the Highlanders
considered him very eloquent in the first and best of all tongues. He left
for Scotland in 1844.
In 1827 Barney's River
was organized into a congregation, with Rev. Donald McKichan as its first
minister. He was a man of some ability and a faithful pastor. After a few
years he removed to Cape Breton. At a later date he returned to his first
charge, and remained there till 1844. The people of Barney's River were
nearly all Kirk men. For ten years the people were dependent on Home
Mission supply part of which was given by Rev. Dr. McGillivray of
McLennan's Mountain. The next pastor of the Kirk congregation was Rev.
James Mair, in 1857.
The Kirk grew and
prospered. The grain of mustard seed had grown into a stately tree. During
the period of twenty-six years, the Kirk had become strong and
influential. Then, suddenly, her progress was arrested by an unfortunate
During all those years,
a memorable conflict had been going on in the Kirk, in the Old Land, which
resulted in the disruption of 1843 and the formation of the Free Church of
Scotland, led by Rev. Dr. Chalmers.
disturbance took a year to cross the sea, but it arrived in due time, and
the Free Church in Nova Scotia was formed. It was a time of excitement and
confusion. Old-time ties were severed; venerable associations were broken
up. There were painful misgivings and divisions and hard feelings were
engendered. But it is not necessary to dwell on this unhappy story. It is
a thing of the past; there let it rest. That year, seven of the Kirk
ministers in Pictou returned to Scotland to fill pulpits made vacant by
Free Church ministers. A majority of the people remained in the Kirk but
they were, for most part, as sheep without a shepherd.
Rev. John Stewart, New
Glasgow, was of the first to join the Free Church movement. He became
pastor of St. Andrew's Church immediately after Mr. Fraser's resignation,
in 1837. In 1819 a frame church was built at Fraser's Mountain. It was
originally a part of McLennan's Mountain congregation. but was separated
in 1830, when the church was moved down to New Glasgow and placed on a
site near the present St. Andrew's Church. This was the first church
building in New Glasgow.
When Mr. Stewart left
the Kirk, about one hundred and forty-five families, and all the elders,
save one, went with him, and they formed Knox Church, of which he became
pastor. Mr. Stewart was born in Scotland, in 1800, and came to Nova Scotia
in 1833. He was a man of fine natural gifts, enriched by a superior
education, He spent himself most lavishly in the best interests of the
Church and education. He rendered valuable service in establishing the
Free Church College in Halifax and was highly successful in raising funds
for it, and in encouraging young men to enter the ministry. He died, May
4, 1880, having completed his four score years in April.
In 1844, a delegation
from the Free Church in the Old Country visited the Maritime Provinces. At
that time, about one third of the people of the Kirk at Scotsburn joined
the Free Church. They worshipped in St. John's Church until 1862, when
Bethel Church was built. Rev. Alexander Sutherland became their pastor. He
was a stirring and energetic preacher. In 1859 he became a minister of the
Scotsburn and Salt springs Churches, and in both charges gave full and
fruitful proof of his ministry. He died in Nebraska, in 1897, in the 80th
year of his age.
Knox Church, Pictou, was
organized in Jan. 1846, by a handful of mechanics and farmers whose
sympathies were with the Free Church of Scotland. The church building was
erected in 1848. The first minister inducted was Rev. Murdoch Sutherland.
He was called, because of his burning zeal and piety, "the Robert Murray
McCheyne of Nova Scotia." On account of ill health he resigned his charge
in 1857, and returned to Scotland where he died. The next pastor was Rev.
Alexander Ross who was inducted in 1850, and served the people for
The people of Blue
Mountain and Garden of Eden with Barney's River joined the movement in
1848, and had for their leader the Rev. D. B. Blair, a rare and remarkable
man who was, in his day, the best Gaelic scholar in America. In 1852, Mr.
Blair and his people set about erecting a church which was formally opened
for service, before a board had been nailed on its walls, because the
congregation had no other place in which to worship. In three years it was
completed, without debt. For forty years Mr. Blair served this
congregation and other sections adjoining with great ability and devotion.
For ten years the Kirk
in Pictou County struggled on without pastors. Rev. Alexander McGillivray,
D.D., the only Kirk minister who did not return to Scotland after the
disruption, wrought manfully and faithfully to repair the breach and to
build up the church on the old foundations.
Dr. McGillivray came to
Nova Scotia, from Inverness, Scotland, in 1833. For five years he labored
at Barney's River and Merigomish. He succeeded Mr. Fraser, in 1838, and
continued there to discharge the duties of a minister with a devotion and
earnestness rarely equaled, until his death, in 1862. He spread his labors
over hundreds of miles of territory, to strengthen and encourage the
pastorless churches. It was said of him, that he often tired out his
horses, but the indefatigable Dr. McGillivray never tired.
In 1848, the Synod
opened a seminary at the West River of Pictou. Professor Ross who was
pastor at the West River, had charge of the literary and classical
departments and Professors Keir and Smith the Divinity Hall. The classes
met in the Temperance Han in an ill ventilated room above the little
country schoolhouse not more pretentious than the log cabin that gave
birth to the renowned Princeton Seminary. Each of the students acted
stoker in turn, and not only kindled the fire, but also swept the floor.
Sometimes the little upper room
looked tidy and sometimes it did not. The old Temperance Inn where the
students boarded is still standing.
In 1853 five men graduated, James McGregor
McKay. James Thomson, Henry Crawford, John Macleod and James Maclean. They
were the first graduates who received all their collegiate education at
the West River. They all settled in country congregations, were successful
ministers, and all lived to participate in their ministerial Jubilee
celebration. Revs. Mr. McKay and Mr. Thomson died at the ripe old age of
ninety three years. Mr. Crawford died after he passed four score years,
and Mr. Macleod lived hale and hearty until he was eighty seven. Mr.
Maclean, died in 1914, in his eighty eighth year and the sixtieth year of
The West River Seminary gave a great impetus
to the life and work of the Presbyterian church both at home and abroad.
In 1858 the Seminary and Theological Hall with its professors and students
were transferred to Truro, Nova Scotia. The Synod of the Free Church of
Nova Scotia, realizing their need of a native ministry, also opened a
college in Halifax in 1848. It continued over a period of nearly thirty
years. In 1860 the Theological department of the College at Truro was
removed to Halifax, and united with the Free Church College.
In 1878, the Synod purchased the property at
Pine Hill and the Theological Hall was transferred there where it has
since remained. As in the olden times the Ark of the Covenant moved from
place to place till David, in the days of Israel's national unity and
prosperity, found a permanent resting place for it on Mount Zion,
"beautiful for situation," so the Divinity Hall moved from place to place
till the church in her unity and prosperity provided a beautiful and, we
trust, a permanent home for it in Pine Hill. The present Principal and
Professor of Theology is Rev. Clarence Mackinnon, D. D., a native of
College, Halifax, is the child of the several branches of the Presbyterian
Church of the Maritime Provinces, once separated but now happily united.
It had its origin in the humble theological school in Pictou nearly a
century ago, and since its beginning, has sent out over four hundred
ministers, who have gone to almost every part of the land. The good old
fathers of the church who founded and maintained this school of learning
have left us a splendid educational heritage, and we owe them the debt of
a grateful remembrance.
The other denominations
have played an important part in religious history of the County.
Among the early settlers
of the Eastern part of the County, who came in the years 1791 and 1802
were a number of Roman Catholics who settled in Merigomish and along the
Gulf Shore. The first resident priest was the Rev. James McDonald, who
came as early as 1793. He was succeeded, about 1800, by the Rev. Alexander
McDonald, who remained with the people till his death, in 1816. He died in
Halifax, and his remains were carried by his people through the woods all
the way to Arisaig where he had had his home.
The first native priest
was Rev. Donald McKinnon. He died when quite a young man. The first Roman
Catholic church in the county was built at Merigomish, in 1810. In 1834
the first church at Bailey's Brook was built and, in 1869, that settlement
was formed into a separate parish with the Rev. D. M. McGregor, D.D., as
its first priest.
Stella Maris, in Pictou
town, was begun in 1823. The first priest located there was Rev. Mr.
Boland who was settled in 1828. The present church, which stands on one of
the most prominent sites in Pictou, was erected in 1865. Father McDonald,
afterwards Bishop of Newfoundland, was then in charge. From 1881 to 1892
Rev. Roderick McDonald was pastor. He was succeeded by Rev. J. J.
The Parishes and Priests
of the Roman Catholic Church in the county at present are: Rev. W. B.
Mcdonald, Lourdes, who has been stationed there for 38 years, Rev. J. D.
McLeod, New Glasgow, Rev. J. J.McKinnon, Bailey's Brook, Rev. J. A. Butts,
Westville, Rev. J. McLennan, Thorburn and Merigomish, Rev. Ronald
The Church of England
was first established within the county in the town of Pictou. The leading
spirits in the first organization were Dr. Johnsone and Robert Hatton, Sr.
Through the influence of the latter, a lot was secured, and he himself put
up the frame in the year 1826. Three years later the church was completed,
Mr. Hatton's son, Henry, being foremost in the work. The church was
consecrated in 1829 by Bishop Inglis. The first rector of the parish was
the Rev. Chas. Elliott, B. A., who was settled there, the 3d of April,
1832. He was appointed rector of the parish in 1834.
The whole country was
then his parish, and he preached once a month at Albion Mines, River John
and other places. He was a man greatly beloved by his own church and had
the respect of the whole community. He labored in the County for
thirty-three years. He was succeeded by Revs. Messrs. Prior, Wood and
Geniver. Rev. D. D. Moore was Rector until 1873, when he resigned, and the
Rev. T. C. Desbarres was elected. He was followed in the year 1874, by the
Rev. James P. Sheraton, now Principal of Wycliffe College. Rev. Wm. Cruden
was the next Rector, and in 1877 the Rev. John Edgecombe was appointed.
The old Church having
been enlarged "at different times and now getting pretty old, it was
decided to erect a new one. The corner-stone was laid on the 22d of May,
1879, and the fine large church in which the congregation now worship, was
finally completed and the first service held on the 15th day of June,
1881. Rev. H. A. Harley succeeded Rev. Mr. Edgecombe in 1888. In the year
1852, the southern part of the parish, including Albion Mines, New Glasgow
and adjoining Country, was constituted a separate parish. In 1876, the
settlement of River John was separated from Pictou, and likewise
constituted a parish.
Christ Church, Albion
Mines, was built in 1851. The earlier pastors were Revs. St. Blois,
Wilkins, Bowman and Moore. The first curate at River John was Rev. M.
Kaulbach. He was appointed in 1865. The Rectors and parishes at present
are: Rev. A. E. Andrews, St. James Church, Pictou, Rev. F. Robertson, M.
A., St. George's Church, New Glasgow, Rev. R. B. Patterson, M. A., Christ
Church, Stellarton, Rev. J. F. Tupper, St. Bee's Church, Westville , Rev.
A. W. L. Smith, M. A., St. John's Church, River John, and Rev. W. W.
The first Baptist
Society in the County was organized by James Murray, who came to Pictou in
1811, and afterward removed to River John in June 18, 1815, where he
baptized two persons and dispensed the communion. The society was formed
on the principles of the Scotch Baptists or Disciples. The first society
of the regular Baptists was formed in the year 1838 at Merigomish. A
congregation was organized at River John in 1844.
In 1874 a church was
built at Barney's River and a small congregation worshipped there. The
First Baptist Church, New Glasgow, is now the largest in the County. It
was formed in 1875. The present pastor, is Rev. J. Clement Wilson. His
predecessor was Rev. W. M. Smallman.
The history of Methodism
in Pictou County virtually begins with the opening up of the coal mines,
although River John had long previously been a regular appointment of the
Wallace Circuit. From 1825 to 1848 irregular visits were paid to Albion
Mines (now Stellarton) by the Methodist ministers stationed at Wallace,
Truro or River John. In 1845, in response to a request from the General
Mining Association, among whose employees were a number of married
Englishmen, Richard Weddal was sent to Albion Mines. There is no further
record of appointments to this place until it was made a circuit in 1861,
when Rev. J. Cassidy was stationed there.
The Society in River
John was organized by Rev. Mr. Snowball, in 1822. They built their first
church in 1824. Since that time, River John has been one of the regular
Pictou town did not
become a circuit until 1868, although one or two unsuccessful attempts had
been previously made to place a minister there. This circuit became a
mission in 1905.
New Glasgow was, until
1888, a part of the Stellarton Mission. It is to a young woman from River
John that New Glasgow Methodism owes its existence today. Miss Ellen
Harbourne from that circuit was married to a Mr. Walker and came to live
in New Glasgow. She was a loyal Methodist, and united with the Church at
Stellarton. At her request the minister from Stellarton frequently
preached in a hall at New Glasgow. Rev. Douglas Chapman (1864-67) was
probably the first to conduct these services. No serious attempt was made
to establish a Methodist Church in New Glasgow until the time of Rev.
Isaac Thurlow (1880-83). During his pastorate, the old Free Church
building and lot were purchased. It was remodeled and put into its present
condition at a cost of nearly $3,000. From a struggling mission, raising
only $410 for its minister as late as 1899, New Glasgow became independent
under Rev. E. E. England, in 1901, and is now one of the most desirable
circuits of the Conference.
Trenton has been
attached to New Glasgow since the time of Rev. W. I. Croft (1893-96).
Services were first held in the Orange Hall. Later, the little Methodist
Church at Piedmont was donated to the Trenton Methodists. The Methodist
Circuits with their present ministers are: Pictou, Rev. Robert Williams,
Stellarton, Rev. John Phalen, River John, H. D. Townsend, Trenton, Rev.
Thomas Hodgson, New Glasgow, Rev. F. E. Barrett.
The census of 1911 gives
the number of Presbyterians in the County 24,000, Roman Catholics 5600,
Anglicans 2600, Methodists 2500, Baptists 1100. The population of County
is 36,000. Out of this number 26,000 are Scotch, 5200 English, 2400 Irish,
1000 French, 376 Swiss, 240 German, 300 Negro, 172 Indian.
The beginnings of the
different branches of the Presbyterian Church in the County of Pictou have
now been briefly traced; the Anti-Burgher Church from 1786; the Kirk from
1817, the Free Church, from 1844, and likewise, those of the other
denominations. The result of the Presbyterian disruption, of 1844 was a
renewed activity in that denomination. There was a spirit of rivalry
between the churches. If the different branches of the Church did not
provoke one another to love, they certainly did provoke to good works.
The Home Mission Board
which was founded in 1840, prosecuted its work as never before. Foreign
Missionary enterprise was launched in 1845, and Dr. Geddie the first
Missionary of the Church, was sent to the South seas in 1846. That event
started a new era of zeal and liberality in the Church, never manifested
before. It also brought the Churches into closer touch with one another.
In 1848 the Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia and the Free Church
established "schools of the prophets," one at West River, another at
From these two schools,
came a splendid band of ministers and missionaries who went far and wide,
founding and building up churches. The Kirk still kept on looking across
the sea for a supply of ministers, and they came. In 1853, two young men
came from Scotland Rev. Alex. Maclean, D. D., a native of the County but
educated in the old country, and Rev. Allan Pollock, D. D., sent over by
the Colonial Committee to Nova Scotia, as a minister of the Church of
Scotland. Dr. Pollock received and accepted a call to St. Andrew's Church,
New Glasgow; and continued to be its pastor till 1875, when he was
appointed Professor of Church history in the Presbyterian College,
Halifax, and later Principal. In 1904, he resigned, and now resides in
Halifax, rich in the love and esteem of the whole Canadian Church.
Mr. Maclean was settled
over the Kirk Congregation at Saltsprings, and held pastorates at Belfast,
P. E. I. and Hopewell, N. S. In all these charges he gave full proof of
his ministry. In 1911, his Diamond Jubilee was celebrated by the
Presbytery of Pictou. He now resides at Eureka, N. S., in his
ninety-fourth year, enjoying an honorable old age. Four young men, all
natives of the County; William McMillan, Simon McGregor, George M. Grant
and John Cameron, were educated in Glasgow and returned to Nova Scotia and
were settled in important charges.
ecclesiastical sky was clearing after the storm. It was found that men
were forgetting their old differences and settling down to a new order of
things. There were three branches of the Presbyterian Church in the
Province, where two was one too many. October 4, 1860 is a memorable day
in the history of the Presbyterian Church. On that day the union of the
Presbyterian Church of Nova Scotia, and of the Free Church took place
under the title of "The Presbyterian Church of the Lower Provinces."
The Synod of the
Presbyterian Church of N. S. was represented by Revs. John L. Murdoch and
P. G. McGregor, Professors Smith and Ross. The Synod of the Free Church,
by Rev. Mr. Forbes, Professor King and Rev. Dr. Forrester. The Union
meeting was held in Pictou. A tent was erected on Patterson's hill, near
the town. Over this tent floated a bright, blue banner with the legend in
white lilies, "For Christ's Crown and Covenant." The spot selected was
where Dr. McGregor preached his first sermon in the County. Here the two
parties were declared one, amid great rejoicings.
There followed years of
growth and prosperity in all branches of the Church. Congregations
multiplied. The supply of ministers increased. Educational institutions
were strengthened. Missionary enterprise was promoted, both at home and
abroad. "Then had the churches rest and were edified." This prosperity was
shared in very largely by the Kirk brethren as well.
With the coming of young
men into the ministry a spirit of Union was manifest, and grew rapidly.
Churches were tired of controversy and separation; and united
co-operatively in educational and missionary, as well as in devotional
services. A Union of co-operation was soon followed by a Union of
Organization. In 1875, all branches of the Church were merged in the
Presbyterian Church in Canada.
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